Our Patron: St. Thomas More
Thomas More was born in 1478, to a well-off London family. From an early age he excelled in his studies, at St. Anthony’s School, as a page for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and at Canterbury College at Oxford. While there he became entranced with the “new learning,” the Renaissance humanism that was spreading to Northern Europe, and developed lifelong friendships with the greatest scholars of the day, most notably Erasmus of Rotterdam.
On his return to London, More studied law at Lincoln’s Inn. He resided for some years at the Carthusian charterhouse in London and seriously considered a vocation to the priesthood. However, he ultimately chose to continue his legal career, marry, and raise a family. His first wife, Jane Colt, bore him four children before her early death; he then married Alice Middleton, a widow who remained fiercely loyal to him throughout his later tribulations. More was devoted to his children, and personally supervised their education. He had a particular interest in female education, an unusual idea for the time, and his three daughters were some of the best-educated women in England. His home was organized as both a school and true domestic church, with the entire family engaging in scholarship, communal worship, and prayer.
Meanwhile, More continued to advance in his public career, practicing law and serving as a skilled negotiator on behalf of London’s guilds, while also finding time to compose Utopia, his great work of political philosophy still studied today. His abilities led him into royal service, where he first began to work for King Henry VIII as a councilor of the Star Chamber. Later he became Henry’s councilor attendant—literally, the king’s “right-hand man”, personal secretary, and advisor in matters of state. More worked tirelessly in his public duties, at various points also serving as a judge, Speaker of the House of Commons, and eventually, Lord High Chancellor over all England. Yet despite this, he still put his duties to God foremost, rising hours before dawn every day to carry out his personal devotions, and attending Mass daily. He also engaged in works of scholarship and polemic in defending the Catholic faith against the new Lutheran heresy infiltrating the country.
However, everything changed when King Henry decided to set aside his queen, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn. The king’s obsessive determination to dissolve his sacramental marriage, which was to lead to the English Reformation, soured his friendship with More, who could not support him in his “great matter.” More was forced to resign his Chancellorship, but this was not enough for the king. When More refused to swear an oath to the Act of Succession, which both denied the validity of the king’s marriage and rejected papal authority, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained for over a year. His time of confinement was one of ceaseless prayer and spiritual preparation for the death he knew was coming. He was put on trial for treason, convicted on specious evidence, and sentenced to death. On July 6, 1535, More suffered death by beheading, declaring on the scaffold that “he died the King’s good servant but God’s first.”